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Towards a new educated, informed and strong India

By Sagarika Ranjan
In Education
April 4, 2016
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The classrooms are being thrown open to new possibilities, new initiatives and ideas to revamp our education system

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Digital material aided teaching has improved learning at schools

Durgesh, Poonam, Reena, Anil, Gita, Sohan and many more. They all stopped going to school. Some were in class four, some in class two; Durgesh managed only a couple of days in school. Somehow, the plot does not evoke much response now, we have all become used to hearing kids dropping out of school for want of classrooms, toilets or other basic infrastructure. The news here is the new vision of the solutions to these problems.

The present government has been working on a few new ideas that seem promising. Connecting over a million schools in the country digitally, addressing shortage of teachers through volunteers and through online lectures, and creation of an education system beyond books are some of these that have given hope to millions across the country.

In his Teachers’ Day address this year, PM Narendra Modi had said that many good teachers will be able to take classes just as he was taking questions from students, sitting in some remote corners, through video conferencing.

According to the Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “Digital classrooms can complement classes given by less qualified teachers. In India, the Digital Study Hall project provides digital video recordings of live classes taught by expert teachers, which are shown by DVD in rural and slum schools. An evaluation of four schools in Uttar Pradesh found that, after eight months, 72 per cent of pupils had improved test scores.”

In rural India, an after-school program for children from low income families used mobile phone games to help them learn English. This resulted in significant learning gains in tests of the spelling of common English nouns, particularly for children in higher grades who had stronger foundation skills, states the EFA report.

Specifically, considering the case of India there is a need for a middle path to begin with. These e-learning programs have to be a blend of both traditional and contemporary methods of teaching as well as learning.

“There are glaring challenges in the implementation of this scheme. There is no internet here most of the time. If it is there, the speed is not good enough for video or at times even audio streaming,” said a government teacher in Baghda village in Bihar.

Low rate of literacy, unavailability of electricity, unwillingness to study, poverty-driven dropouts are just some of the many issue challenging the initiative. However, there are positive initiatives, in this case catalysts to taking a confident stride in right direction.

All these years there have been complains as to why India doesn’t spend more on education. Fund crunch has always hit the execution as our public expenditure was woefully inadequate in education. Not anymore.

Recently, the PM had set up eight groups of secretaries to suggest ways that can help improve growth in all the sectors of the economy. The reports submitted by these groups have recommended increasing public expenditure on education to six per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from current 3.85 per cent.

This apart, they also recommended introducing a new scheme – Unique National Initiative for Quality and Universal Education (UNIQUE). Suggested to begin this year itself, the scheme is for provisioning funds to the states to improve the quality of teaching right from class one to 12. Twenty per cent of fund allocation will be performance-based.

These recommendations will trigger better performance of the educational institution for performance linked part of funding, thus increasing the total allocation of finances as fraction of the GDP. Besides, there is a strong possibility of better services as each state will compete against another and in the process the quality of education will improve.

Another recommendation of the committee was entrance exam for teacher training institutions from 2017-18. “This is a very welcome step as the quality of teachers has been degrading with each passing day. Not because the teachers are bad but because first, no good student wants to become a teacher and second the training institutes are not up to the mark,” said Minni Sinha, professor of Physics at Patna University.

According to new global projections from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, chronic shortages of teachers will persist beyond 2015 for decades to come if current trends continue. In total, the world will need an extra 3.3 million primary teachers and 5.1 million lower secondary teachers in classrooms by 2030 to provide all children with basic education. In such a scenario, focusing on the quality of teachers and their training is a thoughtful step.

Another new idea recommended by the group of Secretaries was to introduce vocational education as a part of the regular course structure from class 9. A student can continue with the mainstream studies or take up a vocational training from class 9 and gain expertise, enough to be absorbed in the industries and earn a livelihood for her or himself.

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Online availability of NCERT books is a boon for kids in far flung areas

These are not just talks; concrete steps are slowly becoming visible. For example, the government has increased the stipend of the post graduate and PhD scholars. As per the present provisions, a post grad student gets Rs. 12,400 per month and a PhD scholar gets Rs 33,000 per month. An important parameter to assess the quality and quantity of education system is the amount of academic research done in a country. The percentage of research scholars in India is among the lowest in the world. Increased money could encourage more academic research.

Another facility that can work wonders for the poor is uploading all the NCERT books on the NCERT website free of cost in pdf format. It is a step towards helping those poor students who cannot afford books and for those areas where availability of these books is a luxury.

The efforts do not end here. The Government has launched a number of new schemes and projects for better and holistic human resource development.

An initiative to create a national digital library and set up a platform through which faculty members of institutions like IITs, IIMs and central universities would offer online courses, for all willing to study, free of cost has been taken up. The online course platform, named Swayam will help students get certificates without having to leave their families or whatever responsibility that keeps them from attending regular college. A sum of Rs. 10 crore has already been released to IIT, Kharagpur to set up the digital library.

On World Women’s Day a unique initiative was launched to identify geographical pockets which fared poorly in terms of education among girls so that corrective measures could be taken.

For improved institution selection, the All India Council for Technical Education has developed a portal to help students know about the colleges under it and make better choices about where to take admission. It is called the ‘Know Your College’ portal.

It’s all at a very nascent stage and yet some positive impacts can be felt. India is growing educationally and with every child’s development, India develops a bit. Indeed, the classrooms have been thrown open for all – girls, workers, and students good at subjects and also who are good at vocations.

A new dawn, an educated dawn is in the hopes now.

Sagarika Ranjan